“And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go, get down! For your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. . . . They have made themselves a molded calf, and worshiped it and sacrificed to it. . . . I have seen this people, and indeed it is a stiff-necked people! Now therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them’” (Exodus 32:7-10).
“Then Moses pleaded with the Lord his God, and said: ‘Lord, why does Your wrath burn hot against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? . . . Turn from Your fierce wrath, and relent from this harm to Your people. . . .’ So the Lord relented from the harm which He said He would do to His people” (verses 11-14).
In reading this passage, many Christians mistakenly attribute more grace and mercy to Moses than to God. They think, "Moses is pleading for great mercy upon Israel, while God is ready to destroy them." Nothing could be further from the truth. The only reason Moses could pray as he did was because He knew God's heart of mercy.
God’s justice demanded that the people be consumed but Moses knew it would pain God too much to destroy His children, so he lifted this plea to God, "I know that Your justice is crying out and these stiff-necked people should be wiped out, but I know You would not be able to stand the pain if You did that. I know Your heart, God, and I know You cannot destroy Israel—because You love her."
The Bible says God "repented," which means He changed His mind about how He would judge Israel. He was not going to destroy them; instead, the people would waste away in the wilderness. Although the people would continue to pain His heart for thirty-eight more years with their unbelief, the Lord would still protect them, lead them, feed them and clothe them to their dying day.